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Methods of Influencing The Audience in Bowling for Columbine

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Michael Moore’s 2002 mockumentary Bowling For Columbine is a political commentary that details the correlations between America’s seemingly normalised ‘gun-obsessive’ tendencies and its relatively high percentage of incidents caused or correlated with gun violence. Throughout the film Moore presents emotionally weighted statistics and footage which inherently portrays a harsh message about the state of American society meant to inform, influence and induce anti-firearm opinions within the general public. The subtle usage of footage, sound and editing as well as the inclusion of comedic satire within Bowling For Columbine both influence the audience’s viewpoint and consolidates the overarching message of the film.

As Bowling For Columbine opens, footage from the NRA (National Rifle Association) is displayed. This is incorporated to imply that the NRA is endorsing the film, however the fact the footage is in black and white (contrary to the majority of the film) and is distinctly derived from old film footage, the audience is barred from holding this perspective, thus the inclusion is therefore seen as another form of irony or social satire, along with other pieces of archived footage within the film. Following a brief sequence demonstrating scenes of devastation from bombings interlude with glamorous images of people posing with guns interspersed with commonplace events such as children arriving at school and farmers doing daily routines, the film dives straight into the narrative with little introduction, showing Moore entering into a bank and receiving a complimentary firearm. Within the film Moore is characterised as a separate entity, a constructed and enacted identity that secures the bond with the referential world, and lending a particular voice to the documentary itself. The inclusion of the Moore character is critical to the atmosphere of the film and his ordinary, jokey, seemingly working class persona gives the audience a character within the narrative to relate to and side with. This public-persona is further emphasised by the inclusion of home video footage of Moore as a child and his personal relations with the rifle subculture and how he was invested from a young age. This segment shows Moore is not in any position to condemn or judge gun owners, and enables the documentary to maintain a level of objectivity. The use of autobiographical stories establishes a semi-rapport with the audience by establishing that he, is the same as any other person. This technique ensures the audience connect with his persona and identify with his viewpoint. By knowing about his background and personal information about him, the viewer feels as though he is acquainted, trusting him to show the truth about issues.

The inclusion of brief segments of comedy shows such as Chris Rock and South Park are derived from ‘docutainment’ elements, a subgenre of documentary that utilises all the tools of high production feature films, including animation, fast motion photography, graphics, montage, and music. Moore has stated that, “The best comedians used to be the people who were the angriest. Their humour was the flip side of their anger.” This demonstrates that Moore feels the inclusion of such elements is just as relevant to any other ‘serious’ footage due to most comedy, including his own, being ultimately drawn from social satire. The usage of popular modern music such as “Happiness Is A Warm Gun” overlayed on images of people carrying firearms and celebrating and endorsing gun use, portrays irony as the songwriter; John Lennon was a well-known pacifist and anti-war protestor. This provides an insight to the satirical element that Moore is promoting. This sequence is then immediately followed by a young mother who states that “This is a great place to raise your children.” This editing highlights the juxtaposition of two contrasting ideals and is used significantly throughout the film, mainly to highlight the contrast between perception and reality. This is seen again with the weapon merchandiser, who affirms, that America doesn’t just “drop a bomb on them,” in reference to American negotiations. This is subsequently followed by archive and newsreel footage of all altercations that the USA had taken part it. With both statistics and visuals of civilian death counts being shown on screen, whilst Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World” plays in the background. The contrapuntal music adds to the socio-political irony as the sequence closes with an impactful image of the hijacked planes flying into the World Trade Centre. As this is shown, the music fades and the panic of the witnesses of the event fades in, ultimately disproving the weapon manufacturer’s words.

In a following intentionally disturbing and horrifying scene, events of the Columbine massacre are relived with the use of actual split screen security camera video footage of the terrified students diving for cover as the Columbine shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold open fire, overlaid with the logged voices of fear-stricken 911 callers. The sequence introduces actual emergency calls being heard over the camera, walking the audience through the deserted corridors of the school whilst solemn music plays in the background before jump-cutting to the camera footage of the shootings and mass-panic. The choice of showing the empty corridors contributes to the eerie quality of the footage, echoing the scenes of devastation and death which were present within the school. The climate of fear following the Columbine disaster is satirised by the inclusion of the most ridiculous and exaggerated stories of children in schools being suspended or otherwise punished for showing perceived ‘warning-signs.’ For example, the student suspended for dying his hair or the first grader for pointing a chicken strip at a teacher. This in combination with the ‘public service’ tape showing how easy it is for a student to smuggle in firearms when the school has a lax-dress code policy, is mocking the overreaction and overprotection, particularly emphasised as the boy proceeds to pull out a full rifle from down his trouser leg. After it is suggested that the boys’ love for Marilyn Manson caused them to commit these crimes, Moore conducts an interview with Manson. Manson speaks coherently and intelligently about politics and appears to be knowledgeable on the subject. This is juxtaposed with footage of religious protestors claiming he is promoting killing and death; emphasising the ridiculousness and lack of connection between the two, particularly as the protestor compares the music to a Lexus advert. Following the interview Moore states “The only thing that they know about Marilyn Manson is what they’ve been told,” that Manson is “some insane devil-worshipping fruitcake. And it turns out that he’s very intelligent.” Moore then expands upon this notion and states that if the media would “lie to you about something like that, what they are lying to you about today? About Afghanistan or Iraq? About al Qaeda? About Arab people?” This explicit questioning over the legitimacy of the media following an example of its unreliability instantly positions the audience to do the same, both reaffirming the validity of Moore’s views and firmly setting the foundation for further investigation.

As the story of Kayla is introduced, the emergency call her teacher made is heard with white subtitles over a plain black screen with no other audio nor visual stimuli. This is an extremely effective way to humanise the tragedy, as it forces the audience to listen and be affected by the contents of the 911 call. This use of ‘dramatic’ documentary which uses coercion, persuasion and emotional manipulation can be seen by the use of emotive music as the story of Kayla and the notion of poverty surrounding Moore’s hometown of Flint is developed. This section of the documentary portrays the media as uncaring and unsentimental, as the newsreader worries about his hair, and jokes with the other members of the press as he reports the story of a murdered child without showing any sorrow nor emotional concern. The following section of the film, which deals with the K-Mart and the two boys injured in the Columbine disaster is the section of the film with the most, direct impact. Moore causes the manufacturers to phase out the selling and distribution of handgun bullets, by showing them the wounds the two boys received, appealing to their moral conscience. This scene also demonstrates that the store has no disabled access when people have to help carry one of the boys up the stairs. The inclusion of this struggle further demonises the stare and therefore when, only after Moore arrives with the press, does K-Mart agree to stop selling the bullets in their stores. This demonstrates that the scenes with the greatest impact tend to be the result of Moore engineering situations that will reinforce his point of view in memorable ways.

Throughout the entirety of the film, Charlton Heston is portrayed as the antagonist and antithesis to Moore’s overarching message of gun-control. After the emotional scenes of devastation directly following the Columbine disaster are shown on the film in conjunction with students weeping from the trauma of the shootings, Heston is shown holding a rifle towards the sky stating “From my cold, dead hands.” The editing of Charlton Heston’s gun rally in the town of Denver shortly following the Columbine disaster magnifies the insensitivity of the action. The juxtaposition of this rally with the father who had lost his son in the shootings protesting, only emphasises the unreasonable nature to a greater extent. Similarly, as the teacher from Kayla’s school is comforted by Moore as she proceeds to emotionally breaks down, the like “From my cold, dead hands” are heard once again over the top of the scene, and it is stated that Heston held a pro-gun rally in Flint shortly following the murder of Kayla. The film concludes with Moore visiting Heston in his home. He initially appears friendly and helpful to begin with, agreeing to meet with Moore, then claiming that he was not aware of Kayla’s death when he visited Flint. However, as the questions Moore poses begin to get far more personal and accusatory, Heston closes the interview and walks away from Moore as he shows him the photograph of Kayla before her death. This once again vilifies him to the audience, and he is seen to be as insensitive as the media before him.

Moore utilised the film format, along with satire and comedy to accentuate his viewpoints without explicitly stating them. Moore comments not only upon the use and misuse of firearms, but the American state of mind in general. It is an incredibly successful attempt at influencing audiences to take a stand on gun-related issues facing America with the use of inserts and entertainment only adding to the overall message. 

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Methods Of Influencing The Audience In Bowling For Columbine. (2021, August 06). GradesFixer. Retrieved January 25, 2022, from
“Methods Of Influencing The Audience In Bowling For Columbine.” GradesFixer, 06 Aug. 2021,
Methods Of Influencing The Audience In Bowling For Columbine. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 25 Jan. 2022].
Methods Of Influencing The Audience In Bowling For Columbine [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2021 Aug 06 [cited 2022 Jan 25]. Available from:
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